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The case for basic, public values

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One reasonably could ask whether this is the moment to write a book about the potential of Catholic Social Theory to contribute to Australian politics and policy. After all, the Church is still struggling to come to terms with decades of child abuse, hardly a recommendation for social potential. We currently also are attempting to make sense of a Plenary that is both confused and confusing.

As Monty Python might have remarked, ‘What has the Catholic Church given us in social theory? Nothing!’ That great theologian, however, would be wrong. For better or worse, the Church is an institution, indeed the institution. Institutions get a bad rap these days, but properly understood, they are capsules of values.

What this means is that the personnel of an institution may be appalling, but the institution and its values remain intact. In the secular world, for example, we may believe that all judges are pompous asses, but still believe in judicial independence. We may opine that all legislators are overpaid idiots, yet cling to parliamentary sovereignty, and so forth.

Like the laws of the Medes and the Persians, the fundamental social values of God’s Church changeth not, regardless of massive failure by its servants. As my mother was prone to say, if you want evidence of the divine inspiration of the Catholic Church, just ponder its survival despite the Papal Pornocracy of the Middle Ages.

Our own challenge is that we live in a world, particularly in the context of government, that literally is starving for basic values to guide their policy choices. Before the launch of the book Shadow of the Cross I was rung by a high-ranking, public servant and atheist friend who was excited that anyone was even going to posit a set of basic, public values.

This value lacuna is fundamentally dangerous to our society. Without basic values, policy-making lapses into mere transactionalism: I have been told to build a dam there, so I will, regardless of environmental or indigenous concerns.

At its worst, this phenomenon intensifies. It becomes soulless game-playing. I have been told to achieve a particular policy outcome, and you are trying to stop me. My objective is to beat you, regardless of the consequences. Usually, this tendency is accompanied by name-calling, and false characterizations. You are a leftie. I am fascist. He is a lunatic.

 

"This value lacuna is fundamentally dangerous to our society. Without basic values, policy-making lapses into mere transactionalism." 

 

If we are honest with ourselves, any of us who have served in public life sometimes have displayed this tendency. We have exulted over policy triumphs and the fall of enemies, when it is all mere pride. We need to be careful of this tendency within the Catholic community, as well as in government. Church debate is not a game, nor is it resolved by name-calling.

We need to be assiduous here. The Truth Justice and Healing Council often is held up as model of governance, but if I had heard the phrase ‘It’s all about the optics’ one more time, I would have been ill. Around the Plenary, we already are damning those who disagree with us as ‘reactionaries’ or ‘demolitionists’, the latter a term of my own, for which I can argue only on the basis of self-defence.

I was most struck by this lack of public values at a meeting of Australia’s Vice Chancellors to discuss the latest atrocity of some government or other. I argued that we should go back to the fundamental principles of universities and argue from there. Much shuffling of feet followed. My impression was that half of us thought it always was a bad idea to resort to principle, while the other half had no idea what the relevant principles were. No wonder politicians hold universities in contempt.

Of course, it would be possible to generate numerous elements of Catholic social teaching in writing a book. I chose the four which I take to be fundamental: the dignity of the human being; the common good; solidarity; and subsidiarity. All are easy to say, and to find appealing examples of practice. But each poses genuine challenges for committed Catholics, of whatever hue.

Take the common good. It is not mere utilitarianism, the greatest good for the greatest number. Of course, people should be fed, educated, have proper health care and be allowed to vote. Yet the common dignity of human beings is at the heart of Catholic social teaching, not in operative applications, however worthy. All humans — however vulnerable or socially useless — remain human, and are to be valued as such. This applies to the elderly, the dying, the unborn, the sick, the poor and even criminals. As Catholics we are called to defend them. We cannot plead inconvenience or calumny as an excuse.

A Jewish friend once told me after attending a Mass that he finally ‘got it’. ‘You Catholics are in love with life. You don’t care whose life, the condemned criminal, the unborn child, the old person gasping their last breath’. It was a good summary of the dignity of the human person.

The notion of the common good is closely related to the value of human beings. In one sense, it is the generalization of the individual proposition, but the Catholic notion of the common good goes beyond the incidental adequacy of a society. It is moral, as well as a material proposal. People should live in a ‘good society’.

Sometimes, it is easy — even enjoyable — to argue for elements of this good. Most of us confidently would demand better treatment for refugees, and recognition of indigenous people. But sometimes it is much harder. I was amazed by the number of people who vehemently supported the execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Surkurmaran in Indonesia. I was boggled by those — including Catholics — who supported the unjust imprisonment of Cardinal Pell on the basis that ‘he must have done something’.

 

"Whatever the internal divisions of the Church in Australia, however, one can only wonder at a policy oeuvre driven by Catholic social teaching: refugees admitted, the indigenous recognised, prisoners treated humanely and the sick respected."

 

From a Catholic perspective, a society acting in the common good cannot support abortion or euthanasia, however popular these causes may be. By debasing the moral quality of that society and its respect for life, these cannot be for the common good.

Solidarity may have the ring of Latin America and Che Guevara, but it is fundamental to Catholic social thought. Ultimately, it is about connectedness. The actions of every person affects, at whatever degree of remoteness, every other person. Therefore, we should act with interests of other people firmly in mind.

The connection with the dignity of the human person and the common good are obvious, but solidarity goes further. It demands that we be with the poor, the sick and the dying, not merely around them. It requires an intimacy with suffering that many of us find emotionally very difficult.

Subsidiarity is the final value considered in the book, and the one with which — as a constitutional lawyer in a federal state — I am most familiar. Subsidiarity demands that decisions be taken at the lowest possible effective level of governance. This reflects the inherent value of the human being, but also the common good, as decisions made at a local level are most likely to reflect local needs and values.

Subsidiarity as a principle is rather popular these days, as it is thought to encourage local experimentation and independence. But one needs to understand its inherent limitation: decisions should be taken at the lowest effective level. Just as the Australian States do not have navies, dioceses do not decide such issues as the ordination of women.

Some may be surprised that ‘synodality’ is not included as a fundamental value of Catholic social teaching. It is, after all, the flavor of the month. One reason is that synodality, unlike the other values discussed here, is not easily generalizable to politics and policy. Frankly, not one Catholic in a hundred would have heard of it prior to the last two years.

Second, its meaning has become debatable, and to some extent consciously distorted. Properly understood, ‘synodality’ involves all elements of the Church — Bishops, clergy and laypeople — working together to discharge their distinct roles in the service of God and His Church.

But in Australia, particularly in relation to the current Plenary, it has been twisted to mean a form of ecclesial democracy, in which the role of Bishops in particular is greatly diminished. This not what Pope Francis means when he uses the term, but words are the playthings of proselytizers.

Whatever the internal divisions of the Church in Australia, however, one can only wonder at a policy oeuvre driven by Catholic social teaching. Refugees admitted, the indigenous recognised, prisoners treated humanely and the sick respected, rather than conveniently terminated.

We could do worse.

 

Greg Craven is an Emeritus Professor and former Vice Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University.

Topic tags: Greg Craven, public values, Catholic Social Teaching, social theory, Church, Plenary

 

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Existing comments

There's much to agree with in this article Greg and I thank you sincerely for it.

One issue that continues to disturb me about the Catholic Church and Catholic schools in Australia is that they only seem to advocate for government spending for their schools while ignoring the needs of the vast majority of poor students in Australia who mainly attend underfunded and neglected government schools in low socioeconomic suburbs and regions.

I would like to see Catholic schools advocate strongly for the needs of their poorly resourced neighbours in the government sector who appear to have no one to speak up for their needs.

Such open advocacy would fit in with your excellent argument about solidarity that, "It demands that we be with the poor, the sick and the dying, not merely around them."


Robert Van Zetten | 25 January 2022  
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Indeed, Robert, but that's not all. (See Professor Sanderson's post further down this page). Greg has functioned at the highest levels of Catholic educational influence and decision-making at school-based as well as university levels, but has never applied his superb brain and unswerving Catholic commitment beyond promoting Catholic Social Teaching (CST) as appealing to charity.

Hence, Australian Catholic school education caters, at the 'diocesan' level, for middle-class families paying 'middle-income' fees and, at the higher end, those who pay 'high-income' fees.

Thus, there is almost no Catholic educational provision for the poor, other than by dispensation from this established pattern, and despite the Catholic Social Teaching that 'the Catholic School is, FIRST AND FOREMOST, for the Poor' ('The Catholic School', Rome, 1977).

Meantime, Greg has participated, without fear of contradiction, at the highest levels of Catholic educational administration, without ever having disturbed or altered this internal policy, even to the point of assisting with importing a branch of an American Catholic university and where the class-ordained constitutional implications for such arrangements are categorically different from our own.

Greg is committed, like those controlling Australian Catholicism, to a charitable 'Santamarian', rather than 'redistributionist' view of both CST as well as education.


Michael Furtado | 29 January 2022  

"Second, its meaning has become debatable, and to some extent consciously distorted. Properly understood, ‘synodality’ involves all elements of the Church — Bishops, clergy and laypeople — working together to discharge their distinct roles in the service of God and His Church.

But in Australia, particularly in relation to the current Plenary, it has been twisted to mean a form of ecclesial democracy, in which the role of Bishops in particular is greatly diminished. This not what Pope Francis means when he uses the term, but words are the playthings of proselytizers."
You say "This is not what Pope Francis means" and you leave it there, hanging. OK Greg complete the story for us please - what does Pope Francis mean?


Michael James LOWRY | 25 January 2022  

In the interest of solidarity I refer to your paragraph about subsidiarity:
“Subsidiarity is the final value considered in the book, and the one which — as constitutional lawyer in a federal state — I am most familiar.”

I would preface “which” with “with”. As a lawyer who works with words, you should surely know that, and to place “a” before “constitutional”.


Frank S | 25 January 2022  
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‘In the interest of solidarity….’

In for a penny, in for a pound? The single quotation mark is a house style of Eureka Street. As we’re on Eureka Street virtual land this Australia Day, or on any day for that matter….

Solidarity and subsidiarity are assisted by noticing little details about the other? That seems to be the main complaint about 'privilege', that it doesn't notice that there is an other.


roy chen yee | 26 January 2022  

Hi Roy, I am not in the Eureka St “house”. And neither are several other commenters who also use “” rather than ‘’, including Peter Johnstone. The editor could have changed those quotation marks if s/he chose, and it would have made absolutely no difference to the meaning. However, leaving out “with” is a problem for the reader, who needs to do a double take in order to understand the meaning of the writer.


Frank S | 29 January 2022  

A quibble, perhaps, Frank, detracting from the immense interest that Greg's interesting fervorino on behalf of the Bishops has drawn?


Michael Furtado | 29 January 2022  

'quibble'

Is it?

But, you have now noticed, and, having noticed, you have been imposed with a choice between choosing to do the Eureka Street thing with quotation marks on Eureka Street 'land' or choosing not to.

In a way, it's like the vice-chancellors who could blithely have gotten by without knowing that fundamental values applied to the discussion in question until Greg Craven told them what those applicable values were. Now, they know, and they're stuck with having to decide whether to apply them or not, not thinking about them no longer an option because once you know, you can't un-know, unless, as you do, you wilfully ignore arguments that you cannot rebut.


roy chen yee | 30 January 2022  

What is there to rebut in an accusation that lacks evidence?

As to your apologist's point about the other Vice-Chancellors ignoring Professor Craven's fervorino, perchance you should ask them what they thought of the Ramsay Centre being housed at Notre Dame, which would have to be one of several factors that would have crossed their collective mind.

Incidentally, there are several Catholics and other professing Christians among them, who bring to the discharge of their roles a conscience and other uniquely Judeo-Christian dimensions that have made their universities major contributors to the common good in Australian society and culture.

I might name a few of them: Professor Peter Boyce once Head of the Human Rights Commission and a devout Anglican (UQ), Professor Peter Sheehan (ACU), Professor Raul Mortley, Anglican and Lacanian scholar (Newcastle), Professor Jarlath Ronayne, Irish-Australian Studies (Victoria) and Professor Ingrid Moses, devout Lutheran who started her Australian career as a teacher in a Catholic school (Canberra and UNE).

Their polite silence speaks rather more generously and charitably towards poor Greg than if they had responded to him.

Craven's ability to influence the common good may also be hampered by his prominent opposition to republicanism allying him with conservatism.


Michael Furtado | 14 March 2022  

‘What is there to rebut in an accusation that lacks evidence?’

The accusation is yours. Where’s your evidence that it is a quibble?

All I was saying is that solidarity requires paying attention to other people’s details. If you noticed that Eureka Street article writers constantly use single quotes, and you read that the editors prefer single quotes, your knowledge means that you now have to make a choice as to which kind of quote you use. It’s no longer an unthinking action. Whether or not it’s rude to use a different style is beside the point. Knowledge of another person’s disposition means you now consciously have to decide how to act in relation to what that person might think whereas previously, unconscious of the person, you blithely did as you pleased.

Privilege, so goes the accusation, is blithely doing what you do without noticing how other people do the same thing (because, for whatever reason, they are simply invisible to you).

‘As to your apologist's point’

Interesting but irrelevant.

I was using the account of the vice-chancellors’ meeting give another example of a situation where once you know, you can’t un-know (unless you forget), but you can disregard (if you’re the half who, according to Professor Craven, are leery of first principles).

However, to take another bait, republicanism is scrawling graffiti upon the Christian character of the nation.


roy chen yee | 30 March 2022  

Although an admirer of Monty Python’s theological qualifications I agree with much of what has been written by Greg. Not every single thing though. Basic values encourage us to dialogue with people who have a different perspective. The Church rightfully stands with Catholic social teaching; however we should also stand gently with those who disagree and contribute our love and steadfastness.


Pam | 26 January 2022  

Well written article. We will have to take responsibility for our actions and hold our elected representatives to also do the right things. For us Christians " LOVE is the ANSWER ". Love One Another As I Have Loved You . Jn 13:34.


Andre Adolphe | 26 January 2022  
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LOVE is ALWAYS the ANSWER, thanks Andre; and none of us should ever assume that contributions posted here, nomatter how necessarily contestational at times, are written other than in a spirit, as well as through a commitment to, Johannine LOVE.

Your sublime post therefore raises the question about what St John the Evangelist means by that when he says about Jesus: 'I come that You may have Life and Live it to the Full' (John X: 10).

Life cannot be lived to the full when, either by accident or design, some of us shackle or contain the life-chances of others, which is surely what the Evangelist, invoking Christ, intended to convey.


Michael Furtado | 29 January 2022  

Thanks Greg - illuminating to this ecumenically spirited Uniting Church disciple from Bush Methodist origins. I am close to several students and junior faculty at several universities around Queensland. Their impacts of covid across these 2 years have been substantial and not well acknowledged publicly. I recall that ACU was one of those few private universities to receive Jobkeeper payments. Many of the public universities, especially the regionally ones without old money, sustained serious ongoing damage through these times.
Did solidarity extend to speaking up for the public universities by ACU? Or did one look after one's own?


Wayne Sanderson | 26 January 2022  
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Splendid Wayne

Didn't Greg explain (or did he respond about) ACU being a public university? Hence the tension in his disquisition on subsidiarity: ACU, like Notre Dame, both of them universities where he has been Vice Chancellor, have basked in the mistaken light of being 'private' while funded, like any other, from the public purse.

One might also ask about the tensions and contradictions inherent in this for his public support of many conservative positions on human rights, anti-discrimination and equal opportunity that run counter to the positions of several other Australian Catholics.

This may inadvertently reveal the tension that Greg rightly and, as usual, deftly addresses in his clever elision towards the divisions between Catholics on Plenary Council matters.

For it is Greg's political record that surely reveals him to be a conservative and, while socially liberal on Refugee and Aboriginal questions, an unbudging champion of conservative politics and values, both on matters of constitutional reform as well as university administration.

These are precisely the public aspects of his career profile that endear him to the Bishops, as well raise questions about him with those who regard him, without much risk of contradiction, as an apologist for them.

Thanks.


Michael Furtado | 27 January 2022  

Given that, for a Christian, the Judaeo-Christian God is the only deity which exists and the (somewhat disorderly) multiple translations of the Bible (a fault, if it is one, of Christians themselves) is the deity’s written testament to its existence, basic, public values can only be values which are Christian or compatible with Christianity. This means that in a democratic, parliamentary setting, orthodox Christians have to produce as many orthodox Christian voting offspring as will outnumber the others so as to regulate those social processes (including the immigration program) which generate and sustain values.


Otherwise, what basic, public values are we taking about? Prayers to an ideal which cannot implement itself or to imaginary cosmic intelligences (which could implement ideals if they existed) to open a session of a legislative chamber?


roy chen yee | 26 January 2022  
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Gratitude to Roy for this gem! (It considerably helps to clarify my prior view of Greg Craven's essay, expressed in response to Wayne Sanderson's post).

Roy provides the perfect illustration of the tensions that Greg must straddle in appealing to a faith community that has moved light years ahead of its episcopal leaders. Thus Greg implicitly chides us for addressing issues that only Head Quarters in Rome, in Greg's 'constitutional' opinion, may decide upon.

Roy's intervention perfectly illustrates the almost balletic splits that Greg must straddle in order to appease the Bishops as well as Plenary onlookers, champing at the bit to try at least to get an agenda item on board that the Bishops, while being unable to constitutionally address, can at least take to Rome with them next year as a measure of respecting what Australian Catholics genuinely feel but which the Bishops, aware of their inability to address, fear to report (and in respect of which they have opted for an unseemly silence).

The crucial implication of Roy's post then has to be: are there Australian Catholic Bishops who endorse Roy's uniquely pre-Vatican II perspective, as espoused by Roy's encapsulation of Pius IX's anti-modernist point of view?


Michael Furtado | 27 January 2022  

‘faith community that has moved light years ahead of its episcopal leaders.’


The episcopal leaders as a college are the custodians of the pearl of great price. Anyone in the Church who has moved ahead of the pearl at light speed has been surfing the world, the flesh and the devil.


Democratisation of governance per se isn’t an attack on the pearl of great price but it risks contaminating the beliefs and values that are the pearl itself as the laity, harassed by the world, the flesh and the devil like sheep without a shepherd, cannot be trusted to preserve the pearl as it was apostolically bequeathed. And we know that because the move towards democratisation of governance is to change beliefs and values, the sex abuse scandal itself only coming to light in very recent times but making a very good excuse for those whose agenda is to refashion the pearl itself.


After all, the virtual schism within the Anglican Communion has nothing to do with sex abuse of minors, and Michael Furtado’s wish is for the Catholic Church to become a carbon copy of the Episcopal Church of the US, a church, incidentally, which isn’t making much inroads into the unchurched (sinking another excuse that democratising governance will make the Church attractive to non-believers).


roy chen yee | 29 January 2022  

“ From a Catholic perspective, a society acting in the common good cannot support abortion or euthanasia, however popular these causes may be. By debasing the moral quality of that society and its respect for life, these cannot be for the common good.”
But it is not just a question of popularity. Proponents of these things strongly believe that they are for the common good. They would question your authority to determine that they can never be for the common good and debase the moral quality of society. Your value judgement then becomes just an opinion like any other. The Catholic Church once had the moral standing to make authoritative pronouncements on questions like these, but has lost it completely as a consequence of the child abuse scandal. Possibly constitutional lawyers like you have taken it up. But that too is open to question.


OldG | 26 January 2022  
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‘The Catholic Church once had the moral standing to make authoritative pronouncements on questions like these, but has lost it completely as a consequence of the child abuse scandal.’


The moral standing of an argument is determined by the content of the argument itself. The character of the agent proposing it is accidental, deriving its significance to an observer from appearances, that is, if the observer is unable to distinguish between appearance and substance. Perhaps that is why we have those clouded figures of the Old Testament who were chosen by God to be pivotal to his plans.


roy chen yee | 27 January 2022  

An excellent and thought-provoking article, Greg. Thank you. In the 1960s, a professor at Notre Dame in Indiana said 'A Christian view of man makes sense'. He was a layman and a Professor of English. I find the best spokespeople for the Catholic Social Ideal were authors like Chesterton, Belloc and Waugh. Novelists get home to people, whereas clergy, especially the episcopate, are seen as remote and unapproachable. Well, in Australia we have the Mannix-Pell example. Pell is not a paedophile, but he is an unabashed authoritarian. There are better examples of responsive but orthodox bishops, like the admirable Justin Symonds, who lived far too long in the shadow of Mannix. The saintly Joseph Grech of Sandhurst is another shining example. Our current crop are very much B listers as against some US and European bishops. They cannot communicate well. They don't know how to talk to people treating them as equals. 'Solidarity'? Sometimes you have to be different from the crowd. I am anti-abortion but pro-choice. This offends Catholic tragics I know. My contention is that women should be encouraged not to have an abortion, hence I support the right to protest peacefully outside abortion clinics. There is definitely going to be a battle on euthanasia. My gut feeling is Catholicism here needs to go mainstream and not be seen as a narrow sect, as it sadly often is.


Edward Fido | 27 January 2022  
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Nice to read your characteristic musings on this page, dear Edward, which I know will draw wide agreement.

I think, perhaps, that your net is cast into a vast sea of sublime Catholic thought, some of it here, including much that is contemporary, that would not locate Waugh within the same contributory bracket as Chester-Belloc, beyond all three being exemplary standard-bearers in approximately the same inter-war era, and which may pose a bit of a distraction for those valiantly trying to incorporate shifting attitudes to abortion and euthanasia into the even more complex cosmology of contemporary Catholic culture.

Waugh, brilliantly ascerbic, as well as at the apogee of craftsmanship in English language expression in his time, 'submitted' to the discipline of Rome on many occasions relating to which he must have been consumed by doubt, and expressed through his transcendental piety, absolving him, in my reading, of his extreme class-snobbery and vituperative cruelty towards others, like Belloc, whom he once described as 'smelling like a fox'.

Chesterton and Belloc, writing more gently and with considerable humour, were in the end apologists for a Catholicism, which thankfully has moved on from an obsession with justification and the drawbridge, towards deep humility.


Michael Furtado | 29 January 2022  

Greg, you state that "the personnel of an institution may be appalling, but the institution and its values remain intact" - a bold statement! Your premise dismisses the damaging impact of poor leadership and culture on an institution's values and efficacy. You seem to suggest that members of an institution, whether Church, government, or judiciary, have no obligation or even need to address acknowledged failings in leadership and culture. Your final sentence, "We could do worse", would seem to indicate you see no need to do better.


Peter Johnstone | 27 January 2022  

Greg, you state:
"the personnel of an institution may be appalling, but the institution and its values remain intact . . . (that) we may believe that all judges are pompous asses, but still believe in judicial independence, . . . that all legislators are overpaid idiots, yet cling to parliamentary sovereignty, and so forth."
Your premise dismisses the essential role of organisational leadership and culture in preserving and ensuring the values of any organisation. You imply that appalling leadership is of little importance and of no threat to an organisation's values.
Your last sentence "We could do worse" begs the question, "How can we do better?"


Peter Johnstone | 27 January 2022  
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Well said Peter Johnstone, thank you!


Frank S | 29 January 2022  

‘What this means is that the personnel of an institution may be appalling, but the institution and its values remain intact. In the secular world, for example, we may believe that all judges are pompous asses, but still believe in judicial independence. We may opine that all legislators are overpaid idiots, yet cling to parliamentary sovereignty, and so forth.’


Loose lips sink ships and so does loose writing. Institutions remain intact if some personnel have integrity. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because they did not have even a remnant who were not appalling. What prevents the Catholic Church from becoming the intellectual chaos that is the Episcopal Church of the United States is personnel, bishops and laity who recognise that progress is forward movement steered by fundamental principle.


roy chen yee | 30 January 2022  

We are a Pilgrim Church, our feet, like Jesus', bare or in sandals, walking a stony path, not with foot-soldiers or cavalry but the old, the lame, children and the infirm.

Our success, like our story, cannot be measured in terms of the kind of victory archives that mark out the conquests of the Caesars, Alexander the Great, Ghenghis Khan and Cortes.

Our heroes, following in the foot-steps of Jesus, were like Francis of Assisi, who, far from doing battle with Saladin, so impressed the Sultan that he won his respect and the custody of the Holy Places and Shrines in Jerusalem and brought several hundred imprisoned crusaders back with him.

Francis declared himself to be a changed man from this meeting, perhaps the first example of metanoia that resonates with our own call to Christ-like conversion.

All this empty insult-chucking about Sodom and Gomorrah, when your posts provide ample evidence of the scandal-mongering anal intercourse which you perpetually attach to that awful account (which is really about the self-destructiveness of a people who turned their back on their neighbour) makes one wonder, Roy, not just about the quality of your exegesis but, with respect, the state of your mind.


Michael Furtado | 18 February 2022  

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is cited to question Greg Craven’s assertion that an institution can exist even if all the people in it are ‘appalling’. S & G were destroyed because God couldn’t find ten men in each who weren’t ‘appalling’ (presuming that Gomorrah would have been treated equally with Sodom). This, of course, means that because the Church will survive until the second coming, there will be, because there must be, some righteous people in it at each and every moment of its existence, but they might only be a remnant, the rest of the membership being passengers or subversives.


However, one might wonder why of all the types of ‘appalling’ that exist in the world, especially the multiplicity of run-of-the-mill kinds of ‘appalling’ like murder, theft, and various types of selfishness, each type of which would have served the purpose of Genesis 18:16-33, or more specialised types of ‘appalling’ such as child sacrifice or even routine abortion, the Holy Spirit had to choose the rather esoteric instance for the example of turning their back on their neighbour the unseemly desire for the backs of their neighbours. Given that God doesn’t do things by accident, the facts of the story were intentionally chosen. If you have a problem with the story, take it up with the Author.


Or, like a Thomas Jefferson, you might scissor out a scriptural story which you don’t like and pretend you still have a Bible, scissoring being either a physical amputation of offending text or, as is more commonly the case, pretending the text doesn’t exist when you do your exegesis, even though Scripture has to be interpreted as a whole. However, exegetical denialism is, of course, a state of mind, no?


roy chen yee | 21 February 2022  

Here, hear, Peter Johnstone! So pleased that I have read something from you with which I can agree!


john frawley | 28 January 2022  
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And, so, esteemed John Frawley, how would you respond to Peter Johnstone's post, both 'here' and when you 'hear'?

What constructive and worthy suggestions, beyond the expression of agreement or anger evoked in you by our collective experience of resolute episcopal silence on many matters of episcopal organisation and culture, might it trigger?


Michael Furtado | 29 January 2022  

“We could do worse”. Indeed. And it’s very hard to know how we could do better. In the current state of our societies, once we’ve seen the increasing debility of governments, universities, the communications media, we may well ask ‘Lord, to whom should we go”?


Seymour Joan | 29 January 2022  

MF. For many years I have been disagreeing with Peter Johnstone's reformist agenda for the Church which to me dilutes or abolishes sacramentality in some areas and promotes a secular rather than scriptural and tradition based reform. The Catholic Church has already undergone such attempts at reform which left nothing other than division in its wake. The new, enlightened reformed church still exists although with some 40,000 rather than the original 2 denominations.
The modern day reformers have more than enough choices to moor their boats of discovery. But I suppose subservience to the existing hierarchy in those denominations would not be acceptable seeing that the current reformers desire the hierarchical accolade for themselves. Peter Johnstone, however, is very correct in his posts above in my "esteemed" opinion which calls for managerial reform - a very different thing from the sacramental reforms some of today's reformers would champion.


john frawley | 30 January 2022  
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Thanks, John Frawley.

I think your and Roy's preoccupation with Episcopalianism misses the point. Its not theology and the sacraments but the culture and structure of Catholicism that reveals a great deal about the ideological lens through which you see.

The Church's theology/sacramentology is not up for sale. Indeed, it cannot be because that would make it 'less Catholic'. Your attachment to these inessentials may therefore have more to do with ideology than theology, which is about who God is and why we're here.

Catholics unequivocally teach and believe that we are here because God loves us and wants for us only what is good and enhancing of our freedom and happiness.

Anything that stymies this is contrary to the God who made and loves us and who died so that we may live!
This has precious little to do with a shaky structure that has miserably failed to protect our children and which we seek to improve.

'Reform' is a loaded word because of its association with the Reformation, which is anathematic to Catholics. But that's nothing to do with reforming our culture and structure, which, among others, the Jesuits were at the forefront of overhauling during the Counter-Reformation.


Michael Furtado | 01 February 2022  

‘Its not theology and the sacraments but the culture and structure of Catholicism that reveals a great deal about the ideological lens through which you see.’



Embracing the culture and structure of congregationalism, or democratic oversight by the laity, merely to resolve a secular problem of sexual indiscipline which is endemic to all institutions, not just a church, is throwing out the baby with the bathwater because the laity are not the college of Apostles or their successors and cannot be relied upon to pass the pearl of great price, in the form of theology and sacraments, untainted, through the millennia. We know this because, by thinking about numbers, we can reasonably assume that the majority of the laity would have voted for same-sex marriage, a concept that is spiritually as well as philosophically, in a secular sense, incoherent. In any case, the majority of the laity don’t attend Mass.



Congregationalism leads to the excesses of the Uniting Church. Even the more restrained version of it in the Anglican system of two voting houses (laity and bishops) still produces the schism in the Anglican Communion.



The goal of advocates of lay control or influence is doctrine. Mensheviks among them might naively believe that it is all about improving administrative ethic but we know what happened to the Mensheviks when the camel finally pushed its way into the tent. Riding it were Bolsheviks with decapitating swords, aimed first for the Mensheviks.


The Catholic Church is an apostolic church. The laity are not apostles or their successors in inherited roles. They can't be because the laity of the first century church were not, by observation and definition, apostles, and never had that role. The creation of the role of the diaconate, to be assumed by some of the laity, underscores this because it showed the Apostles ejecting a lesser function from their role.


roy chen yee | 04 February 2022  

Your Feb 3 post, Roy, is flawed in the following respects. Firstly, you conflate congregationalism with the pastoral mode and impulse of Vatican II. Prior to that the Church had a dogmatic impulse reflecting an armed forces image, which hallmarked obedience as the quintessential idiom and standard of Catholic Church membership.

While this kind of top-down order structure reached its apogee in the brutal extravagance of WWII, the post-War settlement learned, as God's people do, through the experience of history after WWI (and after the impossible pontificate of Pius XII) of the need for a pilgrim Church offering a powerful counter-witness (which is what the Gospels intend) to the horrors of Stalin and then Hitler.


Indeed, because Pius sought refuge in allying with Fascism, it subjected his behaviour to the scrutiny of a world opinion, both religious (Kung, Schillebeeckx, Rahner) and lay (Adenauer, Monnet, Schumann) that John XXIII endorsed. Indeed the entire basis of liberal democracy (free elections, the US alliance, a united Europe, the UNO) is the response of the Church that had turned its back on the world.

To construct the Church as ahistorical, exclusively clerical and locked into the static world of the C1st is plainly anti-intellectual.


Michael Furtado | 18 February 2022  

You’re arguing (18/2) for a particular kind of rationality of logic within the institution – democratic - which is fine, except that in an ethos where most Australian Catholics voted for same-sex marriage before solving the moral problem of the trophy child, or would agree that women should be allowed into the priesthood without knowing why God is a man, it is plain to see that democracy as a logic is unreliable in affirming and holding to the uncontradictable which, at the end of the day, is everything because, before humans were invented, what existed was the complementarity of principle or logic between the three disincarnate persons of the Trinity, then the same complementarity between the Trinity and the disincarnate angels, and then the rupture of logic between God and Lucifer.


Purity, perhaps the characteristic which primarily defines God, is consistency of logic --- ‘no shadow of change’ --- and God created Socrates to show us that left to themselves, humans will self-contradict.


Faith is not self-taught but revealed through apostles. The laity cannot teach themselves because opinion is not ‘çonscience’. There are some elements of auto-didactism in everyone’s faith journey but, generally, like any professional field of knowledge, instruction devolves from an authority. The fundamental presupposition of democracy is that it is permissible to be wrong, that knowledge is trial-and-error. That works for two of the four sin-sectors which ‘çry to Heaven for vengeance’ where sin is only prudentially ascertained and is not defined by the power to bind and loose to be intrinsic to the situation. And because sin is an abomination to God who is completely pure, even his willingness to weather trial and error in those sin-sectors is a mercy in itself and should not be assumed to be an unremarkable norm. After all, every time you fail, even in innocence or relative innocence, you are still defacing the intended purity of creation. Although someone might accidentally spill wine on your carpet, the excusability of their action doesn’t remove the fact that the carpet is soiled and your irritation exists, even if sublimated or merely suppressed.


roy chen yee | 22 February 2022  

PS. One has therefore to ask about your theology: is not logic an insufficient basis for banging on about sin and virtue, when the Christ of the New Testament is so illogically and impossibly willing to embrace the worst prodigality?

Is not God's munificence but yet another madly counter-intuitive example of Christianity's un-self-regarding prodigality itself?

And, much as I understand your sublime attachment to logic, doesn't your evident siding with the Selfish Son, locate your position, logically as well as firmly, outside the Christianity's moral cosmos?


Michael Furtado | 27 March 2022  

‘is not logic an insufficient basis for banging on about sin and virtue, when the Christ of the New Testament is so illogically and impossibly willing to embrace the worst prodigality?’

You missed the ‘ex-‘.

The loving father did not embrace the ‘worst prodigality’, he embraced the ex-‘worst prodigality’.

‘Ex’ (or, for that matter, ‘prodigality’) on its own has no definition. ‘Ex’ or ‘prodigal’ by what standard or canon? ‘Ex’ or ‘prodigal’ according to the logic of the magisterium or teaching authority of the canonical Law of Moses (at least, as far the story of the ex-prodigal son/loving father/anal-retentive brother is concerned).


roy chen yee | 31 March 2022  

I'm pleased that John Frawley and I agree on the need for Church reform, but I have never sought to 'dilute' or 'abolish' sacramentality nor to "promote(s) a secular rather than scriptural and tradition based reform".
The overwhelming focus of most seeking reform of the institutional Catholic Church is simply a Church focussed on the mission and teachings of Jesus in the modern world, rejecting the present arrogance of autocracy and related clericalism. That will not occur without leadership based on those Christ-like values (whose loss is not recognised by Greg Craven) that Pope Francis has reinforced with his emphasis on synodality, an approach that requires listening to the sense of faith of the faithful with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
That leadership, with subsidiarity (decisions being taken as close to the people affected as appropriate) is also the essence of good human leadership, both secular and Christian, using the best of God-given human skills.
I would add, without wishing to provoke John Frawley's respect for tradition which I share in principle, that one of the most important and simple lessons the Church must learn from the 'secular' world is the true (God-given) equality of women in leadership and governance.


Peter Johnstone | 31 January 2022  
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‘synodality, an approach that requires listening to the sense of faith of the faithful with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.’


This makes good sense in principle. In practice, most of the faithful voted for same-sex marriage. The bishops will listen to the sense of faith of the faithful with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and find the sense deficient. The ‘faithful’ will listen to themselves and claim to be guided by the Holy Spirit because they will conflate conscience with opinion.


‘one of the most important and simple lessons the Church must learn from the 'secular' world is the true (God-given) equality of women in leadership and governance.’


An unprovable assumption where spiritual (as opposed to administrative) leadership is concerned because God has already taken a side by being a man. The assumption could have been proven by that man doing or saying something to confirm the equivalence of spiritual leadership but he has not done so. In fact, the Catholic and Orthodox churches have taken pains to keep Mary in the story, unlike the Reformation churches who are abetted by some Catholic modernists who make dismissive references to ‘jangling’ rosaries.


roy chen yee | 31 January 2022  

"God has already taken a side by being a man." Herein you identify a major scandal of the Christian faith, Roy: the historically conditioned revelation of God in the person of Christ, effected through the motherhood of Mary; a reality that has distinct bearing on how Catholics conceive both the Incarnation itself and the eschatological community of faith, the Church, called into being by Christ through the will of his Father in heaven and the power of the Holy Spirit - and sustained by them.


John RD | 07 February 2022  

But, several Catholic religious leaders, including the Pope himself and Australia's best-known Jesuit, Frank Brennan, who is a lawyer dealing with both civil and canonical questions which he differentiates to the point that clearly baffles Roy, advocate same-sex civil marriage. This is because developed societies palpably want to offer the same recognition and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples as they do to opposite-sex couples.

The research also shows that marriage is stabilising and supports fidelity in relationship, which is what 'open-relationships' do not.

How can Roy, as the mere layman he claims to be, read the mind of the Holy Spirit on this question?

And where do 'jangling rosaries' constitute a distraction other than during the celebration of the Eucharist which is not at all about devotion to Our Lady but instead to Her Son?


Michael Furtado | 09 February 2022  

'The research also shows that marriage is stabilising and supports fidelity in relationship, which is what 'open-relationships' do not.'

So, call it a civil union for the sake of preserving hospital visiting rights, disposition of property by will, etc. and forbid such a union from producing a child, or raising one except in strictly defined circumstances.

'This is because developed societies palpably want to offer the same recognition and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples as they do to opposite-sex couples.'

That's because they're palpably not thinking about the right of a human being to be raised by both lines of its genetic provenance, just as they are palpably not thinking of the right of the human when pre-born to be born.

I don't think you need to be reminded that this point has been raised. As usual, when you can't address a point, you continually ignore it before going on to do some song and dance with smoke and mirrors.

'as the mere layman he claims to be, read the mind of the Holy Spirit on this question?'

Because secular logic also comes from the Holy Spirit and the logic that a child can be raised with a biological mother or father (especially a mother) as a foreigner to the intimacy of its household is bizarre.

Laymen don't authoritatively read the mind of the Holy Spirit but the Church does, and laymen should follow it. If marriage for two parties isn't possible as a sacrament, then it's not possible as a civil institution. That's why we don't have official recognition of polygamy or polyandry, not that, given the same-sex precedent and whatever innovations LGBTIQ plus '*' throws up, that can't happen, but that will merely be society using its collective free will to act against divine logic.


roy chen yee | 10 February 2022  

I don't contest your view that same-sex couples should not 'beget' children, Roy (10/2) and have stated this consistently. Indeed, there is no logic, other than the sentimentally reprehensible (and therefore flawed) that teaches that, once married, people should 'beget' children.

Indeed, many straight couples, including those conjoined in Christian marriage, cannot have children.

It also happens, although for the life of me I cannot understand why, some decide not to, since I believe, as I was taught, that children are a gift and a blessing.

You seem to have forgotten (and as Frank Brennan explained) that marriage in a pluralist democracy is not an exclusively religious institution.

Citizens may, whether you and I like it or not, equitably avail of it as a matter of right.

And that they do so, although in numbers more reduced than normal, is a measure of many other factors, such as employment instability, the (to some extent) tragic impermanence of culture, housing affordability and sexual licence.

Democratic norms prohibit discriminating between civil unions and marriage beyond 'free-will' and choice.

The law does not sanction having children nor, for that matter, polygamy or polyandry. These are religious concerns.


Michael Furtado | 27 March 2022  

John Frawley is quite correct. Reform of a malfunctioning organisation starts at the top. There are differences between genuine episcopal and priestly authority and authoritarianism, with the attendant clericalism which bedevil the Church in Australia. There is also a difference between administration (necessary) and spiritual life (vital). In Catholicism this spiritual life is embodied in the Sacraments, which are based both on Biblical Teaching and Tradition, both of which go right back to Jesus. Sometimes all sorts of accretions which accumulated over the centuries are seen as Tradition, which they are not. My own view of what is happening in the Church is that it is very similar to the painstaking restoration of an Old Master to its original beauty. I believe the current Pope is achieving that. As far as what is happening in the Church goes, I support him fully. He knows what the real picture is like under the accumulated dross of centuries. I believe our current hierarchy here, with rare exceptions, do not genuinely support him. They are Mannix Men, waiting for Francis to be replaced by a hyperconsevative (in all the wrong ways) authoritarian like themselves. They then hope to do their mass Vicar of Bray act. God save us from them and their like! We must pray for better, genuinely inspired and guided leaders than them.


Edward Fido | 01 February 2022  
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Much as you intend well, Edward, your oft-repeated analysis has major gaps in it. You cleave, for instance, towards an Orthodox Church, that for all its beautiful sung (and unaccompanied liturgy: unaccompanied because the intrusion of an organ or instruments would constitute an offence against tradition for them) is stuck within the erastian framework of a Tsarist Church that did 'sweet fanny-adams' about the starvation of the serfs.

In sum, despite the wonderful accolades paid by you to Abp Kallistos Ware in ES, his Church has spectacularly failed in that most essential aspect of Jesus' message, which is 'Go Teach Ye All Nations'.

When you find and produce evidence of an Orthodox Social Theology, I will publicly recant my remarks. Failing that, what you offer on this site is no more than a stylish but eclectic mish-mash of your own experiences and journeys from Anglicanism to Catholicism and now to Orthodoxy.
The glaring gaps in your theology aren't just liturgical but also missiological and ecclesiological.


Michael Furtado | 18 February 2022  

Peter Johnstone, When you say that the Church has important lessons it must learn from the secular world, are you not saying that Jesus, equal in trinity with the Spirit and the Father got it wrong when he founded the Trinitarian Church on Earth. He is the Spirit. He is the Father. He is the God in whom we as Christians believe. I doubt, that if these are indeed truths, that the Spirit has given up faith in his own creation of Church, has stopped guiding his ordained hierarchy despite the promise to "be with you all days even to the end of time" and instead is now speaking only to the reformers or the secular world. Maybe the Spirit is telling the hierarchy to stand firm and not change what he implemented in favour of secular opinion such as that women be ordained to His priesthood.


john frawley | 05 February 2022  
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Yes, john frawley: the faith leading reformers often place - and would have Catholics place - in secular institutions, their reports and processes beggars belief. An NGO model of church would reduce it to a bureaucrats' puppet show scripted and manipulated by secular ideologues.


John RD | 07 February 2022  

Much of what the Church teaches IS drawn from secular ideology!

In most pre-modern societies, there were two recognised ways of thinking, speaking and behaving, viz. mythos and logos. Both were considered essential and neither was superior to the other. They mostly worked in complementarity. Each had its realm of influence and it was considered absurd to mix the two.

Logos was the practical/pragmatic mode of thought enabling people to function in an outer world needing to correspond with an inner spirituality. People have always needed logos for reasons of justification or raisons d'etres. Hence justifications for war, taxation, decision-making etc.

Logos, in its true sense is always forward-looking, constantly alert to new crises on the horizon, improving insights, inventing something new. Essential to the survival of our species, it has its limitations if stripped off mythos, which, equally on its own, would not serve us in terms of our need for logos.

I appeal to you here, John: your 'logos' is a fixed thing, far-removed from the Greeks use of it and so stripped of mythos as to render both terms useless. Logos cannot assuage human grief or comprehend life's struggles, as the entre to 'Gaudium et Spes' presages.


Michael Furtado | 13 March 2022  

john Frawley, you assert (5 Feb 22) that:
1. In my saying that “the Church has important lessons it must learn from the secular world”, I am also saying that “Jesus, equal in trinity with the Spirit and the Father got it wrong when he founded the Trinitarian Church on Earth”. – No, I’m not saying that, but you seem to be saying that the Church does NOT have important lessons it must learn from the secular world – a very dubious proposition from any viewpoint, including theological and philosophical.
2. The Spirit guides his ordained hierarchy in accordance with Jesus’ promise to "be with you all days even to the end of time" You thus expose a misguided belief that bishops cannot err, a claim that does not even apply to the Pope in the Church’s very narrow definition of infallibility; examples abound of the human failures of bishops, as of the rest of us.
3. The Spirit might be “telling the hierarchy to stand firm and not change what he implemented in favour of secular opinion such as that women be ordained to His priesthood.” In this, you’ve departed completely from the concepts of spiritual discernment and synodality, not to mention the sense of faith of the faithful and the teachings of Vatican II, concepts that are critical to all Church teachings.
It seems, John, that you are prepared to accept whatever bishops say and do not accept any personal responsibility for the state of our Church. The cover-up by bishops throughout the world of clerical child sexual abuse is but one consequence of accepting the inerrancy of bishops. We all have a responsibility for our Church. Those seeking reform seek only to discern and follow the teachings of Jesus and to be guided by their leaders seeking the same.


Peter Johnstone | 09 February 2022  

Peter Johnstone. No. I do not accept that the pope, bishops or cardinals can do no wrong and I believe that those who do should be severely punished and summarily relieved of their pastoral obligations. I do, however, after repetitive and, I think, reasonably unbiased study of the Vatican II documents over many years believe that there has been widespread disappointment with the proclamations of the Council in those documents and subsequent misrepresentation of their intent with a leaning towards implementing those things that many of the "faithful" wanted. Some reform seeks change in the sacramental nature of Catholicism (wherein Christ resides amongst us) and such is not supported anywhere in the Vatican II determinations. Vatican II has failed to produce a reinvigorated Church relevant in the modern world ( its stated original intent) but rather has produced controversy, confusion and catastrophic loss of faith in its erstwhile adherents with abandonment by thousands of priests, other religious and 80% of its practising laity as well as abandonment of a lay prayer life. Ordaining women priests and implementing good corporate management is unlikely to achieve anything - just as the numerous talk festivals, meaningful dialogues, chosen mediums who alone are favoured by the guidance of "the Spirit" and reform movements have failed to achieve anything other than further disillusionment over the last 50 years or so. I suppose that if I am a disillusioned heretic the Spirit will sort me out one day, but I doubt that will happen in this life.


john frawley | 10 February 2022  
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While there's much that perturbs you about the Church, John, you don't seem to offer any solutions, unlike Peter Johnstone, towards remedying them.
 

Granted that some problems, especially in the medical sciences, are beyond repair, such as the terminality we all face, why wouldn't you apply the same rules that guide you as a medical scientist to the 'Church Operational' itself?

Might there be appropriate solutions, beyond the fashionable, that while unlikely to draw back the jaundiced, we should then consider; unless, of course, what you are really saying is that your position is a 'conservative' one, no different to that postulated by Peter but at the other end of the policy scale.

I wonder if and how conservatism of attitude might automatically sit with an emergency physician? Say a an ambulance turns up with a person asphyxiating. Unless you'd let them die, would you not perform an emergency tracheostomy?


Michael Furtado | 13 March 2022  

'would you not perform an emergency tracheostomy?'

I suppose so, because that's what the magisterium or teaching authority of medical best practice would suggest. Of course, you could always be a dissident and, instead, squeeze the person's chest from behind, or hit her on the back, or put her in deep freeze so what oxygen there is in the body lasts longer.


roy chen yee | 01 April 2022  

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